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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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Ang Lee film pays homage to two fine novelists

Tags: Arts
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Canadian author Yann Martel’s best-selling 2001 novel Life of Pi, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2002, was said by many to be “unfilmable,” but cinematic director Ang Lee proved differently by producing the charming and magical film. Currently in theatres, it has been generating mostly glowing reviews.

The story focuses on an Indian boy who becomes shipwrecked and shares a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger in the Pacific Ocean. The tiger and various other animals in the film are computer generated but appear very realistic and lifelike. 

Martel deserves credit for crafting the story on which the film is based. The late Brazilian-Jewish writer Moacyr Scliar also deserves significant credit for his 1981 novel Max and the Cats, which was apparently a major influence on Martel, albeit one he has never fully acknowledged.

Max, the Jewish man who is the central character in Max and the Cats, is forced to escape Berlin in the late 1930s after his affair with a married woman is discovered. After his steamship sinks in mid-ocean, he shares a lifeboat with a jaguar, who stares menacingly at him but mysteriously forebears from eating him. Paralyzed with fear, Max catches fish to keep both himself and the jaguar alive. Eventually, the lifeboat reaches the shores of Brazil, the jaguar bounds into the forest, and Max is rescued.

Scliar died in 2011, but I had an opportunity to speak to him when he participated in the International Festival of Authors in Toronto in 2003. He said he was troubled by the evident duplication of his premise and many story points in Life of Pi, and saddened that it was controversy, rather than the fine points of Max and the Cats, that had brought his novel into the spotlight.

Max and the Cats is a memorable short novel. Those impressed with the Ang Lee film and eager to read Martel’s novel should consider reading Scliar’s fine work as well.

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Names in the News: Israeli-bred Grammy Award-winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari, known for her pioneering fusion of classical, jazz and hip-hop styles, has been named as a “Beautiful Sound” artist and roving ambassador for the Harman Kardon Company, which designs, manufactures and markets a range of audio and related products.

Ben-Ari studied violin under the late classical master Isaac Stern and has shared the stage with Jennifer Lopez, an earlier Harman Kardon Beautiful Sound artist, as well as with Jay-Z, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny G, Janet Jackson and others. She has been dubbed the “Hip-Hop Violinist” and has performed for U.S. President Barack Obama.

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German Refugee Artists: Plunkett Lake Press has released Exiled in Paradise: German Refugee Artists and Intellectuals in America from the 1930s to the Present, by Anthony Heilbut, as its latest and 40th ebook. The book tells the fascinating story of artists, scientists, movie directors and scholars such as Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Thomas Mann, Arnold Schoenberg, Billy Wilder and others. www.plunkettlakepress.com.

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Arts in Brief

• Woody Allen Past and Present is the title of a new series of five Monday-evening lectures with film clips by critic Kevin Courrier. Series $56 or $12 drop-in per class. Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, weekly from Jan. 14 to Feb. 11. 416-924-6211, ext. 606, email  film@mnjcc.org. 

• American Masters Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, narrated by Mandy Patinkin, airs on PBS on Dec. 28, 9 p.m. The documentary tells the story of the first quintessentially American dance company, the Joffrey Ballet. 

• Broadway Musicals – A Jewish Legacy is a 90-minute documentary that explores the unique role of Jewish composers and lyricists in the creation of the modern American musical. Narrated by Joel Grey, it showcases the work of some of the nation’s pre-eminent creators of musical theatre including Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Kurt Weill, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Jule Styne and many others. Airs on PBS, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 9:30 p.m. 

• The Israel Broadcasting Authority aired a 28-minute documentary on the second night of Chanukah featuring Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation. Other communities were profiled on the other nights of Chanukah. 

• Teatron Jewish Theatre’s upcoming production of Charlie Varon’s play Rabbi Sam features a cast of 10 actors and is not a one-man show as indicated in a previous column. Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St., Jan. 3 to 13. Prices range from $26 to $48 but Textron has added a specially priced matinee ($19) on Jan. 3. www.teatrontheatre.com

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•  Clint Neufeld’s Pipe Dreams of Madame Recamier is an exhibition of sculptures of engines, buckets, tools and other mechanical devices from Saskatchewan crafted from ceramic, porcelain and wax, and paired with domestic furniture, doilies and other parlour accouterments. Koffler Gallery Off-Site at General Hardward Contemporary, 1520 Queen St. W, Jan. 10 to March 3. Opening reception, Jan. 10, 6 to 9 p.m.  “Engaging with Ceramic Processes in Contemporary Art,” a panel discussion with Neufeld and others, takes place at the Gardiner Museum, 111 Queen’s Park, Monday, Jan. 14, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

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